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Recalls, ethics among charter sections eyed

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2013 at 5:28 pm

The Lincoln County Charter Commission continued discussions last week as they began fleshing out proposed charter sections on elections, recalls, ethics, conflicts of interest, and nepotism, among others.

Perhaps gaining the greatest discussion were sections concern recalls of elected officials and the establishment of an ethics commission.

Charter commissioners also took up brief discussions on the judiciary, which Daryl Luna, chairman, said should be outlined in the charter but pretty well covered by state law, and pensions. In that regard, Fonville Mitchell, secretary, noted that Lincoln County does not have a pension plan, though the county does fall under the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. He recommended stay as is.

In regard to elections, commissioners discussed several concerns, including whether Lincoln County should require candidates for local offices to declare party affiliation.

“My recommendation would be that we leave it the way it is,” said Commissioner Gene Shreve, as Luna noted that local primaries would significantly increase election costs.

“We’re not doing any good, though, if we leave everything the same,” said Danny Owens, another member of the commission.

Shreve went on to say that while he needs to flesh out proposed language, the only changes he would anticipate, after discussion, would be a recall subsection or provision and stricter penalties for any fraud relating to petitions. Recalls would have to do with a vote or the act of removing someone from their political position, and petitions refer to those filed with the election commission, such as the recent petition on the wheel tax.

“This spells out which offices can be recalled and which cannot,” he went on to say. “Offices such as property assessor, register of deeds and clerk are not subject to recall.”

Commissioners also noted that recalls are addressed by state law, including requirements associated on the number of signatures required by petitioners seeking removal of a person from office.

While Lincoln County has a Rules and Legislative Committee, John Stiles, another member of the Charter Commission, said that it does not have an ethics commission.

“There are a lot of state laws on ethics, but not many counties have ethics commissions,” he said in discussion as commissioners went on to agree that an ethics commission should be established, with provisions addressing make-up, terms, and transparency of findings.

They also agreed that a section on conflicts of interest should also be included and discussed whether employees of any arm of county government should be permitted to simultaneously serve as commissioners. Nepotism may also be addressed in the document, according to discussion. With the exception of cases that would be grandfathered in, a nepotism provision would prohibit a person from supervising a relative.

Commissioner Charles Mullins briefly addressed the area of education, as officials noted that the charter could deal with the election of board members but could not set policy under state law. Mullins is to continue to research the subject to see what the commission can address in a proposed charter.

The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. in the auditorium of the Ralph Hastings Building on East Davidson.